The worst accident I ever covered happened at an intersection of a state highway and a city street. The driver failed to stop when crossing the highway and his vehicle was T-boned by a fully loaded semi that had the right of way. The car was pushed several yards past the intersection up onto the shoulder of the road where it eventually came to rest near a telephone pole.
By the time I got there, first responders had draped the vehicle with white sheets to conceal all the areas where the body of the driver had been dispersed inside the wreckage. It was a horrific sight. The vehicle was a mangled carcass of steel, plastic and rubber. Deep, grotesque trenches scarred the grassy shoulder as the car was violently pushed sideways down the roadway.
It is the reality of what many crash sites look like, but most of us rarely see. Fatalities show up as statistics for most of us, which is much easier to absorb. The shock just doesn’t grip you the same way a twisted and compressed vehicle does.
Judgments on our highways and city streets happen every day. We sometimes use our turn signals to let others around us know what we are doing. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we ignore posted speed limits, choosing to drive at speeds that we believe are more appropriate for our needs at that moment. Sometimes we tailgate. Sometimes we blow through school bus stop-arm signs. And sometimes we rage against fellow drivers for their alleged stupidity and poor choices.
Oddly, as our cars become safer and more comfortable, we seem to be becoming more isolated in our decisions, seeing others as annoying obstacles between us and our destination.
When the pandemic hit one year ago, many people lost jobs or were forced to work from home and suddenly our once congested roadways became free-flowing racetracks. The drive to work felt almost dystopian. The loss of vehicle traffic appeared as though a large segment of the population went missing overnight.
As the open road revealed itself, the temptation to ignore basic driving etiquette became overwhelming. Speeds continued to tick upwards with each passing month.
How dangerous has it become? Between Feb. 1 and March 31 of 2021, the Department of Public Safety reports that five different vehicles in the metro alone were clocked at speeds between 114 and 127 miles per hour. And the lead feet were even more pronounced in Greater Minnesota, where nine different drivers were recorded at speeds between 110 and 135 miles per hour. That’s Brainerd International Raceway caliber speed. State Troopers cited 241 drivers exceeding 100 mph, a 41% increase in 100+ mph citations.
The state patrol also cited 21,247 drivers for your garden variety speeding, whatever that is today. That’s about 354 per day or 23% more than this same period last year.
If that weren’t troubling enough, 759 drivers were stopped for going 20 mph or more above the limit in a 30-mph zone, with the highest speed being 83 mph in a 30-mph zone in Minneapolis.
So which departments were excessively busy trying to tamp down all these speeders? The Edina Police Department issued 446 speeding citations in this two-month window. Washington County Sheriff’s Office, 248; Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, 211; and Wright County Sheriff’s Office, 283; all witnessed excessive speeding as well.
Tragically, early numbers show there have been 84 fatalities on our roads so far, which compared to 76 at this same time last year. Speed was responsible for 41% of the 2021 deaths so far, according to the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety.
We all make judgment calls when we get behind the wheel. Lately, more of us have been making poor decisions. More people will die on our roads this year, many because they have failed to obey speed limits.
Statistics are what they are. They reveal the facts about what’s happening on our roadways. But that white sheet, that is reality. Nobody wants that to be the lasting memory of how their life ended.
Keith Anderson is director of news of APG of East Central Minnesota